How emojis dominate the world’s chatrooms

How emojis dominate the world’s chatrooms
Japanese Shigetaka Kurita, the creator of emoji charachters. Kurita sketched out one of the first emojis in 1999 for an early mobile Internet platform. (AFP)
Updated 17 July 2019

How emojis dominate the world’s chatrooms

How emojis dominate the world’s chatrooms
  • Considered one of the fastest growing languages in the world, emojis are getting more and more popular among different age groups
  • A language expert says while the emoji fad will not die down just yet, it will not replace words

DUBAI: What started as a Japanese invention has taken the world by storm, including in the Middle East where the use of emojis, a modern picture-based form, often features in online and phone texts.

Today is World Emoji Day, marking the rapidly evolving system that some suggest is a “major throwback” to primitive picture-based communication forms.

And the use of emojis in the Middle East has shown how these simple images help to cross language barriers — there’s little confusion over the smiley face, although the same cannot be said for some of the other images.

The culture of emojis has become so significant that a film has been made about them, “The Emoji Movie,” which was the first feature to receive a public screening in Saudi Arabia when the ban on cinemas was lifted in 2018.

The concept was created in 1999 by a Japanese artist, Shigetaka Kurita, to convey information such as the weather and traffic without having to spell out words like “cloudy” or “traffic jam,” for an early mobile Internet platform.

 Big tech firms such as Apple and Google picked up on the trend, which eventually led to its worldwide use.

The use of emojis, like any language, is constantly evolving, and the California-based non-profit corporation Unicode Consortium, the international body that regulates the use of text in digital platforms allowing users from all over the world to view web-based text in different languages and scripts, has devised a system that has standardized the process.

The fad quickly reached Arab and Muslim mobile users, who in 2015 were recognized in a new set of emojis that were culturally relevant to them — the Kaaba, prayer beads known as masbaha, and the flag of the Palestinian territories. In the Unicode 2017 update, the hijab emoji was added, demonstrating how emojis become relevant for different communities.

“Emojis help us express our feelings, in terms of happiness, anger, surprise, shocks and so on. Emojis, right now, are considered a language themselves,” Omar Sattar, a language professor at Skyline University Collegein Sharjah, UAE, said, adding that emojis “sometimes convey more than words.”

“Words are not as effective, as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words,” said Sattar, referring to the human inclination to use symbols and pictures to communicate.

Some linguists say that emojis are comparable to prehistoric communication systems, when the first humans carved symbols on cave walls, using them to convey and store information.

 

Linguist Vyv Evans, writing for the British newspaper The Guardian, suggested emojis were like the Egyptian hieroglyphs, the formal writing system of ancient Egypt.

Today, in an almost 360-degree turn, humans are using pictures again to talk to each other, especially when in 2007 emojis were officially recognized by the Unicode Consortium.

Tech giants Apple and Google then created a separate keyboard for emojis, further normalizing their use. Others adopted it, with organizations such as the EU using in official communications.

“Emojis have become part of our lives,” Sattar said. “We use them on a daily basis. Everybody uses them to express their feelings and emotions. Using them in official communication has become normal, especially when it comes to marketing and customer service. People actually react more when they see pictures.”

He said emojis, now at about 3,000 in number, have become a universal language that “transcends borders,” given that people “don’t have to learn grammar and or alphabets to be able to use emojis, as opposed to an actual language like Arabic or English.”

But Sattar said emojis were not going to replace words. “We have more and more emojis, and it’s going to be very difficult to remember all of these things, what they mean exactly, and how to use them correctly,” he said.

“We also need to remember that different platforms use different pictures — they are not the same. It’s going to be really difficult to remember and memorize all of these different emojis that would sometimes mean the same but would look different.”

Culture plays a crucial role in understanding and using emojis, said Sattar, explaining how one emoji can mean different things to people.

He said although emojis are a modern way of communication, they are still governed by cultural norms and can easily be taken out of context — in some cases to the point where people are jailed.

Reports by UAE dailies Khaleej Times and Emarat Al-Youm said a man was accused of defaming his colleague when he commented on a social media post with a fox emoji. The fox emoji signified cunning, deceit and trickery for the receiver, who filed a case against the sender.

Another problematic emoji in the region is the middle finger, which under UAE law is considered a form of indecent communication and could cause legal trouble for senders or land them in jail.

However, courts consider the relationship between the two communicating sides before giving a final verdict, ensuring there is a genuine intent to offend, lawyer Hamad Al-Debani told Emarat Al-Youm.

There are other emojis that could be deemed offensive in the region, including a number of animals, food and gestures.

Emojis help us express our feelings in terms of happiness, anger, surprise, shocks and so on. Emojis, right now, are considered a language in themself.

Omar Sattar. Language professor at Skyline University College

Since Muslims are prohibited from consuming pork and consider the pig as a dirty animal, the emoji should be used with caution. Dogs are another animal that can be used as an insult or a curse against other people in Arabic.

Emojis of alcoholic drinks could also be seen as offensive, as they go against Islamic traditions. In some Arab regions, the hand gesture where the index finger and thumb form an “O” and which means OK in a number of countries, signifies a threat and warning to the receiver.

In 2015, a virtual keyboard app company, Swiftkey, conducted a study on how speakers of different languages used emojis. They concluded that Arabic speakers use flowers and plants emojis four times more than average, and, are among the least likely to use alcohol-themed emojis.

They are also likely to use fruit emojis, dancing lady in red and stars. The most-used insect emoji by Arabic speakers is the ant, and among the flowers it is the rose.

Despite the early popularity of emojis, they did not always have as much variety as they do now. Between 2012 and 2015, a wave of popular demand for emojis to become more inclusive and representative in skin color and other specifications was on the rise, and Unicode adopted a set of new icons. 

The new update made it possible for users to change the skin tone of some emojis, specifically those that represented people and not just emotions.

There remains a plethora of emojis with cultural significance that are missing from the selection. For instance, although a number of Arabic dishes have an international presence, such as shawarma and falafel, they are still absent from emoji options.

However, Unicode accepts proposals for characters and fonts to be added if a proposal has not been submitted earlier. This means that with each update, the selection becomes more diverse and inclusive.

 


Global advertising agency expands roles of 3 regional leaders

Alex Lubar (L), president of McCann Worldgroup APAC - Ghassan Harfouche, group chief executive officer of the Middle East Communications Network - Ji Watson, chief financial officer of McCann Worldgroup APAC. (Supplied)
Alex Lubar (L), president of McCann Worldgroup APAC - Ghassan Harfouche, group chief executive officer of the Middle East Communications Network - Ji Watson, chief financial officer of McCann Worldgroup APAC. (Supplied)
Updated 30 July 2021

Global advertising agency expands roles of 3 regional leaders

Alex Lubar (L), president of McCann Worldgroup APAC - Ghassan Harfouche, group chief executive officer of the Middle East Communications Network - Ji Watson, chief financial officer of McCann Worldgroup APAC. (Supplied)
  • McCann Worldgroup trio Ghassan Harfouche, Alex Lubar, Ji Watson will take on additional responsibilities across markets

DUBAI: Global advertising agency network McCann has expanded the roles of three of its top regional leaders.

Additional responsibilities have been given to Ghassan Harfouche, group chief executive officer of the Middle East Communications Network (MCN), Alex Lubar, president of McCann Worldgroup Asia Pacific (APAC), and Ji Watson, chief financial officer of McCann Worldgroup APAC and representative director of McCann Worldgroup Japan.

Bill Kolb, chairman and CEO of McCann Worldgroup, said: “Alex, Ghassan, and Ji have each demonstrated an impressive ability to drive client growth and create effective marketing solutions before and even during the difficult period of the (coronavirus disease) COVID-19 pandemic.”

The network has added APAC to the remit of Harfouche at MCN, McCann Worldgroup’s and Interpublic Group’s partner network in the Middle East, North Africa, and Turkey (MENAT), and he will now also serve as president of McCann Worldgroup APAC.

Harfouche, who joined MCN in 2011, leads a network in the MENAT region that encompasses 14 different Interpublic Group advertising, media, and PR agency brands in 15 cities across 13 countries.

Prasoon Joshi, the current chairman in APAC, and CEO and chief creative officer of McCann Worldgroup India, will continue in his roles. Harfouche and Joshi will work together on leadership tasks while continuing to provide vision and direction to the company.

Lubar has been named president of the McCann advertising agency network in North America.

He first joined McCann in New York in 2012 and two years later was promoted to global chief marketing officer, overseeing all integrated new business activity for McCann Worldgroup. He moved to Singapore two years ago to assume his current leadership position.

In his new role, Lubar will drive creativity, growth, and further integration across all McCann brand agencies leading a region that has been highly recognized for its business and creative achievements.

Meanwhile, Watson will take over as CEO of McCann Worldgroup Japan while retaining her other existing roles.

Watson has nearly 30 years of marketing industry experience. She spent the first 20 years of her career in senior management roles on the client side, working for Turner Broadcasting, Coca-Cola, and Samsung. She moved to the agency side with global roles at Ogilvy for seven years before joining McCann APAC in 2016.

“APAC is a region of enormous significance for us as it encompasses the second and third-largest advertising markets (China and Japan). Greater connectivity between the regions will lead to increased opportunities. We have some of our best talent in the network focused on APAC and I’m excited to see what the future holds,” Kolb added.


Facebook, Twitter shut down hate preacher Anjem Choudary’s accounts

Facebook, Twitter shut down hate preacher Anjem Choudary’s accounts
Updated 30 July 2021

Facebook, Twitter shut down hate preacher Anjem Choudary’s accounts

Facebook, Twitter shut down hate preacher Anjem Choudary’s accounts
  • Move came 5 days after he created them
  • Choudary, featured in Arab News’ Preachers of Hate series, is linked to known terrorists 

LONDON: Notorious British hate preacher Anjem Choudary, 54, has had his Facebook and Twitter accounts shut down just five days after he joined the social networks.

Twitter said Choudary’s page was “permanently suspended for violating the rules” of its violent organizations policy.

Choudary, who is featured in Arab News’ Preachers of Hate series, recently had his ban on public speaking lifted. The ban had been imposed on him as one of the conditions of his early release from prison.

He was sentenced to five and a half years behind bars in 2016 for inviting support for Daesh, but served just half that time. 

The rest of the sentence was spent outside prison but under strict license conditions, including curbs to his internet and phone usage, a ban on public speaking, and a ban on contacting certain people without approval.

Those conditions came to an end on July 18 and he was legally allowed to set up an online presence, though the social networks have no obligation to allow him on their platforms.

Before he was jailed, Choudary earned notoriety as an outspoken extremist with a significant following.

Among his followers was the killer of British soldier Lee Rigby, who was beheaded in a London street, and Siddhartha Dhar, who joined Daesh in 2014 reportedly as an “executioner.”


Netflix releases trailer for ‘Al-Rawabi School for Girls’

Netflix releases trailer for ‘Al-Rawabi School for Girls’
Updated 30 July 2021

Netflix releases trailer for ‘Al-Rawabi School for Girls’

Netflix releases trailer for ‘Al-Rawabi School for Girls’
  • The Arabic Original series will premiere on Aug. 12 exclusively on Netflix

DUBAI: Netflix has released the trailer of its Arabic production, “Al-Rawabi School for Girls,” which is the first-of-its-kind young adult series in the region.

                            
“Al-Rawabi School for Girls” tells the story of a bullied highschool girl who gathers together a group of outcasts to plot the perfect revenge on their tormentors.
The six-episode series was created and written by Tima Shomali and Shirin Kamal in collaboration with Islam Al-Shomali and directed by Shomali.
Premiering on Aug. 12, the show will be released in 190 countries and available in more than 32 languages. It will also have audio and written descriptions for disabled audiences.
For Shomali, “Al-Rawabi School For Girls” is the result of a lifelong project. “What started out as scribbles on a blackboard is now an original show on Netflix,” she wrote in a blog post.
Shomali and co-creator Kamal set out to make a series that resonated with young adults while highlighting the challenges that young women experience in high school.
“The one thing I always found lacking in most shows that talk about women is the female perception on their issues,” Shomali said. This meant it was integral that female talent formed a significant part of the team working on all elements of the show, from the script to the set design and music.
The crew includes Farah Karouta as costume designer, Rand Abdulnour as production designer, Nour Halawani as sound mixer, Magda Jamil as post-production supervisor, and Rachelle Aoun and Ahmad Jalboush as directors of photography, among others.
“We collaborated with talented individuals who were solely chosen based on their artistic and creative abilities. And for that, I could not have been more proud to have worked with such an amazing cast and crew, the men and women alike, whose passion and dedication were the main force behind delivering the show’s vision,” Shomali said.
“Al-Rawabi School For Girls” is reflective of Netflix’s investment in the region. Last year, Netflix signed a five-year exclusive partnership with Saudi Arabian animation studio Myrkott to produce Saudi-focused shows and films along with a similar period first-look option on the company’s upcoming projects. It is also expanding its library of Arabic content, investing in more original Arabic productions, localizing content via subbing and dubbing efforts, partnering with businesses, and hiring people from the region to further fuel its growth in the Arab world.
The streaming giant is also committed to providing a platform for more female talent. Earlier this year, on International Women’s Day, Netflix pledged $5 million globally toward programs that help to identify, train and provide work placements for female talent around the world.
The investment is part of Netflix’s Fund for Creative Equity, which will result in the company investing $20 million a year for the next five years in building more inclusive pipelines behind the camera.
In the Arab world, this means working with creators such as Shomali. Later this year, it will launch “Finding Ola,” in which Egyptian Tunisian actress Hend Sabry will take the role of executive producer for the first time in her career.
Currently, the platform features several Arab female talents from the entertainment industry through shows and films including “Nappily Ever After” and “Whispers,” directed by Haifa Al-Mansour and Hana Al-Omair from Saudi Arabia; “The Kite” and “Solitaire,” directed by Randa Chahal Sabag and Sophie Boutros from Lebanon; and “Wajib,” directed by Anne Marie Jacir from Palestine.

 


Jailed Belarus journalist needs urgent hospital care

Andrei Skurko, EIC of the prominent Nasha Niva newspaper, was arrested three weeks ago and is in a pre-trial detention center in Minsk. (AP)
Andrei Skurko, EIC of the prominent Nasha Niva newspaper, was arrested three weeks ago and is in a pre-trial detention center in Minsk. (AP)
Updated 30 July 2021

Jailed Belarus journalist needs urgent hospital care

Andrei Skurko, EIC of the prominent Nasha Niva newspaper, was arrested three weeks ago and is in a pre-trial detention center in Minsk. (AP)
  • The association said it filed a request with the Interior Ministry’s penitentiary department and the Health Ministry to urgently hospitalize Andrei Skurko
  • A total of 28 Belarusian journalists are currently in custody either awaiting trial or serving their sentences

KYIV: The Belarusian Association of Journalists on Thursday called on authorities in Belarus to transfer a jailed journalist to a civilian hospital so he could get treatment for a coronavirus-induced pneumonia he has reportedly developed in detention.
The association said it filed a request with the Interior Ministry’s penitentiary department and the Health Ministry to urgently hospitalize Andrei Skurko, head of the advertising and marketing department of the prominent Nasha Niva newspaper. Skurko, who used to be the paper’s chief editor from 2006 to 2017, was arrested three weeks ago and is in a pre-trial detention center in Minsk, the capital.
Nasha Niva reported this week that Skurko has been transferred to the facility’s medical ward with “structural changes in his lungs,” and his cellmates were placed in quarantine because Skurko was suspected to have been infected with COVID-19.
The newspaper said before Skurko, 43, was moved to the detention facility he is in now, he had spent 13 days in another detention center that is notorious for its harsh conditions, without a bed or a mattress and lacking access to his diabetes medications.
“Andrei Skurko is an insulin-dependent diabetic. For people like him, coronavirus can be deadly,” the Belarusian Association of Journalists said.
Belarusian authorities raided the offices of Nasha Niva, the country’s oldest and most well-respected independent newspaper, on July 8 along with the homes of some staff members. Skurko was detained that day along with the paper’s editor, Yahor Martsinovich, and two other employees of Nasha Niva, who were later released.
Martsinovich and Skurko remain in custody and are facing charges over incorrect payments of utility bills, charges that carry punishment of up to five years in prison.
Belarusian authorities have ramped up the pressure against non-governmental organizations and independent media, conducting more than 200 raids of offices and apartments of activists and journalists so far this month alone, according to the Viasna human rights center.
Authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko has vowed to continue what he called a “mopping-up operation” against civil society activists whom he has denounced as “bandits and foreign agents.”
Lukashenko faced months of protests triggered by his being awarded a sixth term in an August 2020 vote that the opposition and the West saw as rigged. He responded to demonstrations with a massive crackdown that saw more than 35,000 people arrested and thousands beaten by police.
According to Viasna, Belarus authorities are deliberately creating unbearable conditions for political prisoners behind bars, including by placing them into “coronavirus cells.”
Raids targeting journalists and more detentions took place Thursday in Minsk and other cities, the Belarusian Association of Journalists said.
Earlier this week, Belarusian authorities declared the Polish-funded Belsat TV channel an extremist group.
A total of 28 Belarusian journalists — including those working with Nasha Niva, Belsat and the popular independent news site Tut.by — remain in custody either awaiting trial or serving their sentences.
In a statement Thursday, the International Federation of Journalists condemned the government crackdown on Belarusian media.
“We call on the international community to denounce the situation in Belarus. Each day, the authorities violate the media’s and citizens’ freedoms with impunity,” said the Federation’s general secretary, Anthony Bellanger.


LinkedIn allows employees to work fully remote, removes in-office expectation

LinkedIn is reopening its global offices based on COVID-19 infection rates in each location. (File/AFP)
LinkedIn is reopening its global offices based on COVID-19 infection rates in each location. (File/AFP)
Updated 30 July 2021

LinkedIn allows employees to work fully remote, removes in-office expectation

LinkedIn is reopening its global offices based on COVID-19 infection rates in each location. (File/AFP)
  • inkedIn will allow employees to opt for full-time remote work or a hybrid option as offices gradually reopen
  • The new policy will apply to LinkedIn's global workforce of more than 16,000 employees

NEW YORK: LinkedIn will allow employees to opt for full-time remote work or a hybrid option as offices gradually reopen, Chief People Officer Teuila Hanson told Reuters.

This new policy is a shift from the initial indication last October that Microsoft Corp's professional social networking site would expect employees to work from an office 50% of the time when COVID-19 pandemic restrictions lift.

The updated policy, offering the flexibility to work remotely full-time or work at an office part-time, will apply to LinkedIn's global workforce of more than 16,000 employees.

“We anticipate that we'll definitely see more remote employees than what we saw prior to the pandemic,” Hanson said in a Wednesday interview ahead of the announcement, adding that some jobs would require in-office work.

Hanson said LinkedIn is not currently requiring employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to return to the office, in contrast to tech companies such as Facebook and Google that have responded to a rise in U.S. COVID-19 cases by requiring shots. Twitter Inc is closing its recently reopened offices due to the surge in cases.

LinkedIn employees who move locations could see their pay adjusted based on the local market where they're based, said Greg Snapper, director of corporate communications.

The tech industry was among the first to allow employees to work from home when COVID-19 hit the US last year. But the extent to which tech companies are embracing permanent remote work is now diverging.

Apple Inc will require most employees to work from the office three days per week starting in October, while Zillow Group Inc and Reddit Inc will allow most employees to work remotely. Alphabet Inc's Google expects 60 percent of its workforce to return to the office at least part-time.

LinkedIn is reopening its global offices based on COVID-19 infection rates in each location.